The Nigerian Writing System
Professor Ogunleye Shakale tells me that he teaches Aeronautics in the University of Ibadan. The reason, that his is intimating me, has to do with the road to his house on the hill, over Salami Estate in New Bodija.
Professor Ogunleye Shakale approached me with the idea that I could help him to arrange for a layer of asphalt on the road to his house, especially with the coming rainy season.
Of course, I can't help him with the asphalt, but we gradually we became friends. He is a wonderful person, even if I have some doubts about his title as professor.
He is well dressed, with three-piece dark suite, and red handkerchief in the left pocket of his jacket. His English is perfect, thanks to his time in London and he tries hard, without much of success, to speak with a British accent.
I wonder how Professor Ogunleye Shakale is creeping into my office, when there is a clear instruction at the gate, not to allow entrance for people without appointment, particularly professors from the University of Ibadan.
But here we are sitting in my office, speaking about different issues, especially this and that, but also other issues, when Professor Ogunleye Shakale tells me, that he has an appointment in Lagos with the Honorable Minister of Transport, next week, and he wants me to join him at the meeting.
Professor Ogunleye Shakale tells me, that the Honorable Minister asked for his advice, regarding the situation of the Nigeria Airways, and he would love me to accompany him at the meeting.
Coincidentally, I plan to be in Lagos next week, and out of curiosity I decide to go along with the Professor, since meeting the Honorable Minister is a very great honor. At least until you meet him.
It is 9AM in the hot and sunny morning of Lagos. We are driving from Ikeja to Lagos Island. This morning it takes about four hours. Without the usual Go-slow, it should take about 20 minutes, but there is no Lagos without a Go-slow, like there is no rain without clouds. Go-slow is simply a slow traffic or more precisely, a traffic jam. But, a traffic jam!
Upon arrival at the Ministry of Transportation, it is already 1pm. The Professor introduces himself and me, to the minister's secretary, and she pleasantly show us the waiting room and advised - the honorable minister is coming any moment from now.
Good news - I am telling myself.
The day is as usual hot and humid. At the ministry's waiting room there are 6 air-conditioners. They are not working for the past 3 years. The floor is wet because Lagos is close to the equator, and that's mean it is tropic, humid and sweaty.
By 2pm, the Professor is asking the secretary, if she heard anything from the honorable minister, and she say - the honorable minister is coming any moment from now.
At the ministry's waiting room, there are about 15 well respected Lagosian, discussing on different issues, alongside the walls. One respectable Lagosian, tells his neighbor, that the Oyinbo, (peeled people in Yoruba), know so little. Yes - the Professor says - but it is enough to destroy the world.
A third one says - the more we know, the more we know that we don't know and the danger grows, the more we know.
Now you can see, that waiting, at the honorable minister's waiting rooms, can be quite enlightening and perhaps more than a class in the University of Ibadan.
It's 3pm and it looks like the heat cause me to lose my mind. The Professor is asking the secretary if she heard anything from the honorable minister.
Her name is Jibola and she insist that, we need to be patient; the honorable minister is coming any moment from now.
I went to the corridor, to move around a bit, to keep my knuckles out of troubles, and I coincidently noticed a familiar face, so I mentioned to him that I have been waiting for the honorable minister of transportation for few hours now, and that Jibola, the secretary, say that, we need to be patient; the honorable minister is coming any moment from now.
The familiar face tells me, that this is actually the truth, but he advises me to come in 3 days, since the honorable minster of transportation is now in London.
There is no contradiction, say the professor when he noticed of my frustration. You must be patient; the honorable minister is coming any moment from now - as Jibola say.
The Professor is staying in a small hotel at Ikeja and I stay at the Guest House in Ilupeju.
I use the days to see a dentist. The Nigerian dentist check my teeth and declared, that I need seven tooth fillings.
This is unexpected for me, since I never had a filling before and I checked my teeth before going to Nigeria and no filling was required. Seven fillings!?
I spoke to my dentist in Israel, and he says - the way I know your teeth, the dentist in Nigeria must drill seven holes to have seven fillings in your mouth.
The decision on the fillings number, depends on the Dentist's need at that time. For example, if the dentist has some extra expenses, then he needs more money and Naira, and if he needs more Naira then he will increase the number of fillings.
Now, the number of fillings he needs, determine the number of holes that the dentist shall drill in your mouth. It is really so simple. Even Oyinbo, just arrive to Nigeria, should understand this math. After all, you need holes in your teeth, so he can make the fillings. That is the system.
After some investigations, we find out that the honorable minister will actually be in his office on Tuesday. Jibola apologizing to us for the long waiting. She smiles and say - I told you that he will come any moment, didn't I?
Jibola and the minister are both Yoruba. Great people and great culture existing thousands of years. There are about 35 million Yoruba, mainly in Nigeria, and they have an old tradition, to speak Yoruba when they are talking with each other, and that makes it difficult to understand what they are saying, because I don't know how to speak Yoruba.
The honorable minister invites us to sit, and after the usual greetings and bowings, I take my place at the table. The Professor introduces me as his long-time friend from London, to add some legitimacy to my presence.
I am not asking what they are talking about, because the minster might suspect that I try to find out what they are talking about. This might be regarded as a disrespect. Nevertheless, from time to time I receive a short translation.
The Honorable Minister of Transportation and Prof. Ogunleye Shakale discuss the unfortunate condition of the Nigerian Airways, the national carrier of Nigeria. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) suspended Nigeria Airways in 1987 from the Clearing House.
Few years earlier, the former minister of transportation, a well-respected army officer and politician, dismissed the excellent KLM staff, after they did a good job of operating the Nigeria Airways airline and the new terminal of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, and send them back to Amsterdam.
He had two reasons why to send the Dutch team back to Holland. First, the Nigerian teams was believed to be able to do a better job than the peeled experts of KLM in operating of the Nigerian Airways and second, these peeled experts came from Holland, so it is simply reasonable to send them back to Holland.
Very quickly the carrier started accumulating significant debts and losses that outstripped its revenues, which is nothing unusual, except that when aircrafts belong to the Nigeria Airways landed in Europe, they were detained or impounded in Europe for unpaid debt. This was seen as a very rude and impolite attitude of peeled Europeans, that unfortunately don't understand Nigeria at all.
In light of the above, Prof. Ogunleye Shakale shared his frustration with the honorable minister and blamed the peeled European for their unfair tactics.
He angrily reminds the honorable minister, how Columbus, a renown peeled explorer, is regarded by the peeled European as if he discovers America, when there were already millions of good people there. And Columbus was sure it is India. What an Ignorant!
Prof. Ogunleye Shakale explains to the Honorable Minister that the entire problem of the Nigeria Airways could be saved, if there was a Nigerian writing system.
He explains - when other cultures in the world developed their writing systems, thousands of years ago, it was to improve their communication between them. But, in Nigeria it was completely unnecessary.
Villagers in Nigeria were always very communicative with each other, and manage very well without writing system, plus, they had nothing to write about.
I later asked the Professor why there was no writing system in Nigeria. So, he said that there were two reasons; One, they didn't know how to write and two, they didn't know how to read.
Prof. Ogunleye Shakale clarifies his remarks, and shared with the Honorable Minister some of his childhood memories in the village somewhere near Ogbomosho. At those old days they had an advanced technology that allowed them to travel to London instantly.
Prof. Shakale described the exceptionality of that technology. No need for air crafts, no fuel is required, and the operating cost is minimal. No need for favors from the peeled European.
Prof. Ogunleye Shakale criticizes the technology of the peeled people, which force Nigerians to use aircraft, just for the purpose of traveling long distances. Such a technology is not efficient, and Nigeria is completely dependent on the peeled people's technology.
The Honorable Minister listen carefully and asked Prof. Ogunleye Shakale, how can we implement the fantastic technology in Nigeria.
Prof. Shakale take a deep breath - Honorable, that is the problem, we have no writing system, so we couldn't keep record of the details and the process required for that technology.
Prof. Shakale bring his childhood memories – One morning, a village elder was making a lot of smoke from a special fire. He is not sure what type of smoke was it. The next thing, the village elder disappeared within the smoke. Then, some minutes later, the village elder was back from the smoke – he says with excitement. He was a child than, but he vividly remembers the village elder telling them, that he was in London. London yes! Simple! Just like that.
After we left the Honorable Minister of Transportation's office, Prof. Ogunleye Shakale, the Aviation expert from Ibadan, tells me - it is unfortunate that there was no writing system in Ogbomosho to record the details of that technology for the benefit of the next generations. Who needs these peeled people's aircrafts anyway.